A friend of mine is on a PTA board for a brand new school in our city. Since it is a new school, they need to do a lot of fund raising, in particular, for a playground. She had the great idea of hosting a community rummage sale at the school to not only raise money but help people recycle unwanted items. Her idea was great but she ran into the problem of implementation. That’s when she picked up the phone to call me. She proposed some specific questions to me for assistance since I have arranged many a garage sale in my day. I’ll answer her questions in here and then follow-up after she hosts her event with some lessons learned for others out there wanting to host a rummage sale.
How do we go about collecting items from the parents? Where do we store them until the sale? What if items arrive in non-sellable condition? Any tips for cleaning/repair?
Have the school send out a flyer to all the parents outlining all of the details of the sale. If possible, designate a room in the school to collect all of the items from donors. You will want to have one evening where you have volunteers able to collect items from parents who cannot deliver during the day. Consider renting a truck for a couple of days to pick up large items for parents without trucks. You can schedule a day where volunteers drive the truck around to houses to get the items. The truck can also be used for storage if your school does not have a room available. After the sale, load the truck back up with all of the unsold items and take them to Goodwill.
Denote on your flyer to parents that items should not have stains, rips, or broken parts. If items arrive in less-than-stellar condition, you can either throw them away or put them in boxes that you label as damaged and offer the entire box for a low price. You will probably have such a high volume of items, you will not want to spend any of your time trying to fix things.
Should we create a donation form to give to parents, similar to Goodwill?
Yes, you should hand out a form as parents drop items off. We’ve created a simple form for you to print out and use.
How do we price that many items? Should parents price their own and the PTA reserve the right to adjust? How do we prevent dishonest people from swapping prices?
Don’t waste time worrying about price swapping on small items. For larger or more expensive items, label the price tag with the item description and price. The PTA should do the pricing to ensure a consistent price scale across all items. It would look bad to have one parent label an item at a much higher price than another parent.
Price items in even dollar amounts or by quarter for smaller things. Make sure you have plenty of change on hand. I always like to go to the bank and get dollar coins to give back as change, they are always a hit with the kids and the adults seems to like them as well.
How do we organize the items?
CLOTHING: Hang items by size and by type. For example, have a rack of dresses sorted by size and label the entire rack with a price, like “Dresses $5″. Other groupings could be sweaters, blue jeans, pants, shirts, t-shirts, and jackets. Some items should be folded and placed in stacks on tables by size such as the blue jeans and sweaters. Hang clothing from clothes lines if you are able to put them up. If not, rent or build makeshift clothing racks. You can even ask local department stores if they have spare racks you could borrow for the day. If you are able to use clothesline, hang table cloths, napkins, etc. with clothes pins. Write the price on the clothes pin.
To help with the hanger situation, request that clothing arrive on disposable hangers. For additional hangers, contact your local dry cleaner for a donation.
OTHER ITEMS: Organize by categories such as electronics, kitchen gadgets, linens, books, toys, and artwork. Within each category group like items together such as all the children’s books together, all coffee pots in one area.
Make sure you have plenty of storage bags on hand to keep small pieces of an item together. Any larger item that has multiple parts (like a Dustbuster) should be put in a box. Rubber bands are also useful for binding together stacks of magazine or dish towels.
Don’t put books in a box if you can help it. Instead, use bookshelves. This will make it easier for people to browse and makes them much more appealing to the eye. Consider separating books into three categories: fiction, non-fiction and children’s. You might ask the school’s English teachers and librarians to help you with the books. There might be some books donated that the school would want to include in the library or that they will be studying in class.
Make sure you have plenty of extension cords available near anything electronic so that people can plug items in to see that they work. If you have televisions, go ahead and plug them in with the volume down to demonstrate that they work.
How do you slash prices as the day goes on without it becoming too confusing?
Have signs posted a few hours before the end of the sale that say everything 50% off. Have boxes of different sizes on hand to fill about an hour before the end of the sale. Put prices on the outside of the box, $5, $10, $15 depending on the size, not the contents. Put all remaining items in a box, no matter what it is and sell things by the box only. This also helps you get ready for the end of the sale when you would need to box everything up anyway and take it to Goodwill.
Any tips for advertising and marketing?
Newspaper ads can be quite expensive but you will get the most traffic by placing a large ad in the newspaper. More than anywhere else, people look to the newspaper to find the sales that are going on that weekend. A larger advertisement listing a few of your major categories and items being offered will really pay off in the end.
For some additional free advertising, post a listing on Craig’s List. You should also create a flyer to hang up at school and to take around to area businesses that might advertise for you. Some parents might own a business or work at an establishment that will allow flyer posting as well.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of street signs. Have just a large, brightly colored arrow at the major intersection nearest your school pointing in the right direction. Have arrow signs along the route pointing the way. Directly outside of the school, place signs with the event date and time on them and have them up about five days before the sale.
Any additional tips?
Have shopping bags and boxes available for people to take their items home. It’s also nice to start by selling coffee, juice and donuts in the morning. By the afternoon, switch to offering bottled water, juice boxes and baked goods. Perhaps you could share this event with another fund-raising group and let them do a bake sale at the same time. They can keep the proceeds from the food sales and you will get the benefit of having satisfied customers shopping your sale!